* SNS well ahead in opinion polls
* Outgoing government will pursue talks with IMF
By Ivana Sekularac
BELGRADE, Jan 29 Serbia's President Tomislav
Nikolic on Wednesday called an early parliamentary election for
March 16 after the dominant centre-right SNS party said it
needed a stronger mandate to accelerate reforms.
The coalition government asked Nikolic on Tuesday to
dissolve parliament and call the election, less than two years
after the western Balkan country's last vote.
Nikolic announced the election date in a statement broadcast
live on state-run RTS TV.
"I think there are conditions for fair elections after which
we will get a more energetic and enthusiastic government,"
Nikolic said after signing a decree to dissolve the parliament.
"A lot of work is ahead of us - painful and difficult
reforms which will improve lives of our citizens, meeting
conditions set by the European Union for the member candidates,"
Serbia started EU membership talks on Jan. 21, but it is
unlikely to join the bloc before 2020.
The SNS (Serbian Progressive Party), the strongest party in
the ruling alliance, is well ahead in opinion polls, putting
party leader Aleksandar Vucic in pole position to take over from
Socialist Prime Minister Ivica Dacic.
Once an ultranationalist disciple of the "Greater Serbia"
ideology that fuelled the wars of federal Yugoslavia's bloody
disintegration in the 1990s, Vucic has since rebranded himself
as a pro-European moderniser.
Measures to rein in the deficit and cap the public debt will
be crucial to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund
on a new precautionary loan deal, which will begin on Feb. 26
with the election campaign in full swing.
Finance Minister Lazar Krstic said the government will
negotiate a precautionary deal with the Fund, but does not have
the mandate to sign the deal.
Investors appear to believe a strong SNS-led government
would be better placed to forge ahead with the requisite
measures, although doubts remain about the party's abilities and
"SNS will most likely be the pivotal party in the future
coalition," said Djordje Vukovic, programme director of the
Centre for Free Elections and Democracy thinktank.
Fearing popular discontent, consecutive Serbian governments
since the fall of strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 have
shied away from the kind of radical structural overhaul that
economists say is needed to put the economy on a sound footing.